New Ophelia novel launches at Dodge City

PLEASE JOIN ME in celebrating the release of the new Ophelia Wylde paranormal mystery, THE SPIRIT IS WILLING, at a launch party and signing at the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City. The event, which lasts from 2 to 4 p.m., will kick off with a brief presentation about the paranormal and the Old West.

Last year at about this time, the first Ophelia Wylde novel, OF GRAVE CONCERN, made it’s debut at Boot Hill. It was only fitting, because the books are set in Dodge City in 1877-78. While the books are, of course, fiction, there is quite a bit of historical research that has gone into each. In the new book, Ophelia takes a jaunt to Denver and Leadville, Colo., on the trail of a murderer.

Many thanks to Brent Harris, the marshal of Boot Hill, for making this possible.

Even if  Brent’s name doesn’t ring a bell, I’ll bet you know his face — Brent is the iconic, mustachioed western lawman that is featured on much of the publicity surrounding Boot Hill. As I have come to know Brent during the past year, I was delighted to discover that in addition to being famous, he’s a genuinely nice guy.

Brent is pictured, below left. Click on the photo and it will take you to his Facebook  page.

So, stop by Boot Hill on July 5 and meet Brent. He’s one of the good guys. I’ll be there, too, talking about the research I did for the books, signing books, and doing a quick cartoon in the front of each one. It’s something I started last year with the Ophelia books, and the cartoons have been a hit. It takes more time than just singing them, but fans seem to like it. The cartoons vary, but typically feature Ophelia’s pet raven.

I’m a terrible artist, but at least the cartoons are much more personal and heartfelt than just scrawling “Best Wishes” or something similar.  Come to think of it, I should start grabbing photos of some of the better–meaning least awful–cartoons and posting them here.





OF GRAVE CONCERN a 2014 Kansas Notable Book

OF GRAVE CONCERN has been named a 2014 Kansas Notable Book, I learned today from the State Library of Kansas. An official announcement, and a list of all winners, will follow next week. There was also be a ceremony Saturday, Sept. 13, in Topeka.

I’m pleased, and honored.

A few years ago, I won the same award with a very different novel, HELLFIRE CANYON. Although both stories are set in the Old West, that’s where the similarity ends. Jacob Gamble, the protagonist of the Hellfire books, is an outlaw who’s been on the run since the age of 14, and the trilogy goes from the Civil War to the 1930s. Gamble is a fiddle-playing antihero who embraces violence as a means to protect the weak and earn some measure of justice in a wicked world. Ophelia Wylde abhors guns, travels with a pet raven, and is a former con woman who has turned psychic detective, and she believes in a benevolent universe.

If they ever meet each other–and I’ll make sure that never happens–they would hate one another.

More details on the Kansas Notable Book award as they become available.

Custer and the Press

MENTION George Armstrong Custer at any gathering of western scholars and you’ll likely find you’ve tugged at a painful scab on the collective American subconscious. Our feelings about Custer are deep and contradictory and mixed with guilt over our treatment of native tribes, and it’s difficult to reconcile Custer’s ultimate sacrifice with accounts that portray him as a fool or a madman. We like our hero stories to be tidy, and the Custer story is a mess.

It’s exactly this complexity that keeps us fascinated, and makes Custer a perennially viable topic for university and commercial publishers alike. From the gems (think Evan S. Connell and Nathaniel Philbrick) to the duds (Larry McMurtry), there are enough books to keep Custer buffs reading for a lifetime. The challenge is to find work that will offer some new understanding of one of the defining moments of the American psyche.In his new book, Shooting Arrows and Slinging Mud, James E. Mueller does just this. He examines the role that journalists had in shaping the public perception of Custer in the immediate aftermath of the 1876 battle in which Custer and 267 under his command were killed in an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapahoe near the Little Bighorn River in Montana.

Mueller, a professor of journalism at the University of North Texas, at Denton, is a veteran reporter and the author of two previous books, both examining the relationship between the press and recent presidents. In Shooting Arrows, Mueller combs contemporary accounts in the days and weeks after the battle to present a mosaic that outlines that thinking of America while the news was still fresh and bloody in our minds.

The conversation turned on questions that resonate to this day, from our policy toward the Indians to who really was to blame for one the greatest military blunders of all time. Mueller is a careful and restrained writer, and Shooting Arrows can be slow going at times, but the journey is worth it. Consider his wealth of detail about Mark Kellogg, the only reporter to accompany the Seventh Cavalry to the Little Bighorn.

Kellogg was 43, a widower with two young daughters, trying to start a new career as a reporter for the Bismarck Tribune. “The reporter trotted after Custer,” Mueller writes, “riding on a mule carrying two saddlebags bulging with paper and pencil and enough bacon, sugar, and coffee to last fifteen days.”Mueller dispels the myth that journalists of the time were hacks and hucksters that capitalized on the sensational to sell newspapers—and who beat the drum for revenge against the Indians.

Instead, Mueller’s account shows that, despite their cultural biases, journalists provided credible accounts of the battle and wrote thoughtful editorials. In addition, at least one journalist made the ultimate sacrifice in reporting first-hand from the Indian campaigns, a story that was largely ignored until the shock of the Little Big Horn.

Mark Kellogg, the Bismarck Tribune reporter, died with Custer.

– Review by Max McCoy  for the Spring 2014 issue of The Great Plains Newsletter.